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On a Tuesday, February 19, I was invited to a Service of Lament hosted by The Village Church, Denton. This was in response to the recent Houston Chronicle article regarding perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse with ties to Southern Baptist churches. The perpetrators mentioned in the article were either volunteers or staff members of churches within our convention.
Pastor Beau Hughes began the service explaining that lament means an expression of great grief or sorrow. He spoke about his own grief after reading the news story. He then turned the service over to Beth Broom, who is the Groups Minister. She read a psalm and introduced three women who were victims of sexual abuse.
As each woman shared her story, I saw and heard the human side of the headlines. These ladies spoke of horrendous acts that were committed against them. One spoke of being assaulted from the time she was 5 years old through her teenage years. She revealed the shame she felt each time her pastor preached on the sin of adultery but was unsure what to do. Another young lady spoke of a step-father who sexually abused her from the time she was a preteen. She eventually revealed her story to a school counselor who got involved and ultimately her parents were confronted. The third young lady spoke about a family friend who was a deacon in their church. She recounted how this man groomed her to believe the lie that they could be sexually active outside marriage. She was 15 and he was 32.
While I have read about incidents like this in the past, I was overwhelmed with emotion as I heard their personal stories. I grieved as I thought about how two of these ladies had trusted the church to care for them. I became convicted of my own naiveté in regard to the potential presence of victims in churches I had pastored.
Listening to these testimonies, I was reminded of how the church could be a safe refuge for victims. Each of these ladies shared their own personal story of how a local church had ministered to them.
The Village Church has become such a place and offers Recovery classes for victims of abuse. One of the women mentioned that she had attended this class. Another spoke of sharing her story with a woman at the church who had provided comfort and guidance. All three ladies confided that the local church had helped them experience the Holy Spirit’s healing in their life.
As the service continued, additional Psalms were read which reminded us that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. We sang songs of God’s care and love for his children. As the service concluded, the musicians continued to play and people were invited to come to the front to pray or speak with the leadership.
I left the service comforted because this local church demonstrated care for the broken hearted and abused. I was reminded that we, as followers of Christ, are called to make our churches safe places for people to experience the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that God the Father, His Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit offers.
In closing, I hope each DBA church will give consideration to holding a Service of Lament for victims of sexual abuse. I would also strongly encourage offering support groups for sexual abuse survivors. Let’s do all we can to support those dealing with abuse.